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The West a Role Model of Inter-Faith Harmony?
Well, Here Are Our Role Models From Yesteryear






EDITOR:  Man’s inhumanity to Man has thrived through the ages. The following extract from a new book tells us of one example of the internecine conflict that plagued the New World within the Christian communities -- “white on white” violence, to borrow the phraseology of the present-day right-wing. Public riots between groups within the community were commonplace ... well into the mid 20th century.

And then, their attention turned to other “enemies” of “western civilization“: blacks, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims …     

The impact of the Irish Catholic migration on Toronto’s collective psyche was demographic, emotional and, for some residents, worrisome.

By 1851, one in four Torontonians (7,940) was Catholic, and nearly all of these were Irish. Ten years later, the city’s population had increased to 44,821, and 12,135, or 27 per cent, of that total was Irish Catholic, the highest number they reached.

Irish Protestants still outnumbered the Catholics, but the rise of a distinct Irish Catholic presence frightened many of Toronto’s narrow-minded citizens.

“No Irish Need Apply” signs were a common sight in the city’s shops and factories throughout the 19th century. At best, many were “last hired and first fired,” as historian Murray Nicholson notes.

Irish Catholic immigrants “will find out through bitter experience,” declared the Toronto-based newspaper “The Irish Canadian” in September 1869, “[that] their prospects are damped, their chances are curtailed, and the openings of employment lessened, because of their religion.”

In the years ahead, other immigrant groups to Toronto and Canada would also experience such intolerance in an age when assimilation to the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal, rather than multicultural acceptance, defined the country’s expectations of newcomers.

The prejudice and discrimination against Irish Catholics were based on a number of related factors.

These included: irrational fears about the power of the pope to usurp Protestantism across the world; highly exaggerated notions that all Irish Catholics were supporters of Fenianism, the early IRA-style anti-British radical militant movement based in the United States (tavern owner Michael Murphy of the Hibernian Benevolent Society embraced the movement, but he did not support the violent attacks on British North America in 1866); and the linking of Irish poverty with widely held stereotypes of Irish Catholic social ills and immorality.

Fanning the flames of this hatred was, among others, George Brown, the editor and publisher of the “Globe” and, next to John A. Macdonald, arguably the most important politician from Canada West.

From the day the Scottish-born Brown arrived in Toronto via New York City at the age of 24 in 1843, he made himself known. A large man, Brown was over six feet tall and powerfully built. His most distinguishing feature was his long, bushy, mutton chop whiskers. He had learned liberal-minded politics, religious principals -- he was an ardent supporter of the Free Church of Scotland -- and, most significantly, the newspaper business from his father, Peter.

Brown was hard and dogmatic but also an energetic and passionate man with strong convictions about free speech, civil liberties, and the separation of church and state. (Brown was a staunch advocate of “voluntaryism,” which, as his biographer notes, affirmed that “churches should rest solely on the conscience and contributions of their members, while the state in turn should know no church connection and grant support to none.”)

He fell in with Robert Baldwin’s Reform movement and soon rallied around him left-leaning Reformers in Toronto and western farmers he dubbed “Clear Grits” (this faction only wanted men of true grit). He was eventually elected to the Province of Canada assembly in 1851, the beginning of a journey that would culminate with his role as a leading Father of Confederation and a founder of the Liberal Party.

Brown’s most enduring legacy was the Globe, the newspaper he established in Toronto in 1844. Initially working with his father and then with his younger brother, Gordon, the Browns made the Globe the organ of liberalism and, within a short time, the most widely read paper in the city and the country.

It was later said that before many Liberal politicians would speak on an issue, they would ask, “What will the Globe say?” It was sold in every train station, hotel and bookstore in Ontario.

“There were probably many thousand voters in Ontario,” the veteran Liberal politician Richard Cartwright wryly observed, “who hardly read anything except their Globe and their Bible.” The Globe was Brown personified. And if he trained his acerbic pen on you, as he did with his Tory rival John A. Macdonald, he could be vicious.

He had a particular resentment for the Catholic Church and what he perceived to be its evil machinations. In Brown’s view, the pope was nothing less than a “great foreign tyrant,” whose indoctrinated followers were never to be trusted. “Rome has but one aim, to make the secular serve the ecclesiastical,” he wrote in an editorial of August 1857. “Rome means tyranny, and has for its mission the subversion of the civil and religious liberty of the masses.”

The Toronto Mirror, a Catholic reform weekly owned by Charles Donlevy, rightly accused Brown of waging “a kind of guerilla warfare” against the city’s Irish Catholics. “His anti-Popish tendencies,” suggested the Mirror, “preyed upon his brain like feverish disease.”

His intolerance was partly a consequence of the firm religious doctrine he held so tightly (especially voluntaryism), but was also simply the reaction of a blind bigot. For such a brilliant man and devoted liberal, Brown could at times be narrow-minded. He was aghast at the successful efforts of his Conservative opponents to expand government funding for Catholic schools in Canada West in the late 1850s and early 1860s, mainly thanks to the strength of French Catholic votes from Canada East in the union assembly.

That he believed Irish Catholic immigrants would burden and overwhelm Toronto’s destiny was hardly surprising. In his public pronouncements he did not sound much different than the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant nativist American extremists of the mid-19th-century Know-Nothing movement.

Almost as soon as the famine victims arrived in 1847, the Globe declared that they would be “unaccustomed to the habits and occupations of Canadians,” and that they would “sink down into the sloth to which they had been accustomed at home.”

Thereafter, lurid headlines screamed about “Irish Catholics the Curse of the Land,” and “The Irish Papist a Rebel and a Judas.”

In a February 1856 editorial, Brown expressed deep concern over further Irish Catholic immigration, warning that Canada West was to be “colonized by papists,” which he compared to “as great a curse . . . as were the locusts to the land of Egypt.”

Most telling of Brown’s attitude was his complete reversal of opinion about the Orange Order. For many years the Globe had regularly portrayed Orangemen as “thugs”; however, by the mid-1850s they had become “patriots.” Remarkably, now, as an editorial of July 2, 1857, put it, the Order’s “fundamental principles, fairly carried out, are all conducive to the growth of constitutional liberty and the best interests of religion.”

Brown’s change of heart was no doubt due to the anti-Catholic view he shared so strongly with the Order, but it was equally an opportunistic desire to win Orange support for his budding political career -- a ploy that worked in the election of 1858, when he won an assembly seat in a Toronto riding with a lot of help from the Orange lodges.

Despite Brown’s belief to the contrary, not every Irish Catholic immigrant fit the classic stereotype of the poor, drunken Irishman one step ahead of the police. Arriving in Toronto when the city’s industrial economy was taking off, many eventually found work as unskilled or semi-skilled labourers in factories or for the budding railway enterprises so integral to Toronto’s growth.

Some, like John McGee, the owner of the large Phoenix Foundry; Patrick Hughes, who ran a successful dry goods store; and Frank Smith, a wholesaler, who literally rose from rags to riches and later became the president of the Toronto Street Railway Company and director of half a dozen major corporations, were more the exception than the rule.

Most Irish businessmen were small-time shop or tavern owners best classified as “working-class entrepreneurs,” or independent contractors who toiled for low wages (from about 10 to less than 5 dollars a week) as carters, drivers, hackmen or piecework garment tailors and seamstresses. In the case of the carters and hackmen, they received their licences at the discretion of city officials, and most of those were loyal members of the Orange Order.

Generally excluded from positions of power, the Irish Catholics thus created their own neighbourhoods along with their own fraternal societies, religious institutions and social culture, a unique blend of the old country with the New World.

There was no Irish ghetto in Toronto, yet it existed in the hearts and minds of the Irish nonetheless, often perpetuated by the community’s newspapers.

“Surrounded by a hostile majority lashed into frenzied anger by the incendiary appeals of the Protestant press,” the Irish Canadian, one of several newspapers that defended Irish Catholics, pointed out, “we have neither sympathy nor assistance to expect outside of our own body.”

That was probably an exaggeration of the Irish Catholic dilemma in Toronto in pre-Confederation Canada, but only a slight one. A feeling of isolation may have been only a state of mind, but it was one based in reality.

Irish Catholics lived mainly in small (and often substandard) rented houses and cottages in several downtown areas. The most popular was close to St. Paul’s Church, south of Queen and east of Parliament Streets, in a community already settled by Ulster Irish Protestants and known as “Corktown” (after County Cork). Little Trinity Anglican Church was also nearby for Irish Protestant workers.

Similarly, Irish Catholics and Protestants lived next to each other, along with their British working-class neighbours, in a tract of land north of Queen Street East and south of Winchester Street that soon became immortalized as Cabbage town -- which “offered jobs, soot and smells together,” as historian J.M.S. Careless portrayed it -- yet another by-product of railroads and factories.

West from there was Macaulay Town, located north of Queen and west of Yonge Streets, and named after the family of businessman and politician John Simcoe Macaulay, who had first owned this large piece of land. As of 1853, this area was incorporated into the newly christened St. John’s Ward, the most well-known impoverished immigrant quarter in the city for the next century. Irish Catholics resided, as well, in the vicinity of King and Bathurst Streets, and later farther west on Dufferin Street in a neighbourhood that ran from College to Bloor Streets.

Critics of the community especially targeted the dilapidated slums east of Yonge near King. On Dummer, Centre, Pine and Stanley Streets, the truly horrendous Irish poverty proved an eyesore for any reporter brave enough to venture to this squalid and crime-ridden neighbourhood. Every stereotype about the depravity “idle and wretched” (two favourite adjectives in the press to describe them) Irish Catholics could inflict on a city was there for all to witness.

“Irish beggars are to be met everywhere, and they are as ignorant and vicious as they are poor,” the Globe asserted in February 1858. “They are lazy, improvident and unthankful; they fill our poor houses and our prisons, and are as brutish in their superstitions as Hindus.”

A few years later, a Globe journalist was shocked to find in one decrepit shanty, with filth everywhere, “no less than 16 human beings, men and women, lying indiscriminately.”

Another lengthier report bemoaned the “muck and filth” of the overflowing sewers on Stanley Street, homes with stagnant water in their basements “rotting the floors and breeding disease,” backyards with putrid garbage breeding the “plague,” and “miserable hovels which in themselves are better fitted for pig-styes and cow-pens than residences for human beings.”

The newspaper accounts did not necessarily single out Irish Catholics for condemnation, but the implication was clear nevertheless: these immigrants were responsible for making Toronto “one of the dirtiest cities in Canada.”

Protestant sensibilities were also appalled by the petty crime, prostitution and excessive drunkenness that were in part an unfortunate consequence of life in the slums. Alcohol and beer were plentiful and inexpensive in Toronto -- a glass of ale or lager was three cents and whiskey five cents a glass in the 1870s -- and a lot safer than drinking water. (Also available and popular was poteen, a banned intoxicating distilled Irish homebrew, often upwards of 180 proof.)

Moreover, the neighbourhood tavern served as a popular social and entertainment spot for Irish men after a long day on the job. Women, too, imbibed in (often illegal) grog shops or in the privacy of their own homes. No Irish Catholic wedding or wake was held that did not include celebratory toasts and good cheer. That this fondness for drink sometimes turned nasty, leading to street fights and domestic violence, should not be surprising -- nor should an increase of the membership in local temperance societies.

The Toronto press, high, mighty and defenders of morality -- the Globe, in particular, was a staunch guardian of the city’s (and province’s) Sabbath laws that prohibited drinking, gaming, sports, public meetings and even outdoor bathing on Sundays -- thrived on tales of small-time crime, alcohol abuse, and mayhem at local brothels.

“There’s no halfway house in this matter,” a Globe editorial on the integrity of the Sabbath declared in July 1850. “Either we must recognize God’s law in its full extent, or set it aside.”

Newspapers recorded the salacious detail in daily and weekly police court reports, which merely reinforced negative images of Irish Catholics and their plight.

“James Hoolahan and James Felton were charged with fighting and causing a disturbance,” the Globe noted in its “Police Intelligence” column on November 21, 1856.

Likewise, Matthew Evans, a carter, was charged with “stealing a pair of gloves.” A few days later, Ellen Ferral was discovered in the cellar of the home of James Cleland on the corner of Nelson and Duchess Streets. One of Cleland’s servants found her holding a bucket of apples, corned beef and a dress worth three dollars. She claimed that Cleland had given the food and clothing to her but was remanded nevertheless.

At the end of May 1860, Sarah Wilson was charged with “keeping a notorious house of ill fame” on Richmond Street between Yonge and Bay. Caught up in the dragnet were her employees, Rosa Breen, Anne Breen, Anna Marie Farrell, Anne McNab, Margaret O’Keefe and a few customers, James Payne, James Russell, and John McNab. According to the arresting officer, Sergeant Major Ferris, several of the women were found “huddled together in a most filthy condition.” After a quick hearing, the entire group was sentenced to one month of hard labour.

More typical was this Globe report in December 1865 of an Irish family row: “Yesterday Patrick O’Brien was brought before Yorkville authorities charged with assaulting and beating his half-sister Elizabeth Graham,” the paper noted. “The assault was committed in the tavern of Michael O’Hara, on account of some old grudge which existed between them. The assault consisted in O’Brien beating her with a small club on the head and pushing her outdoors.” He was fined a few dollars and sent on his way.

Such lurid accounts of “Irish-Catholic couples lying on their babies in a drunken stupor, of inebriated Irish labourers beating their children or kicking their pregnant wives in the belly, and of stabbings, fights and late-night brawling parties further confirmed anti-Catholic prejudices,” suggests historian Brian Clarke.

Of the nearly 5,000 men and women whose names are found in the Toronto police register for 1857, for example, more than half were arrested because of problems connected to liquor, and most of those were likely Irish Catholics.

That deplorable situation, no doubt bolstered by the deep-seated police prejudice directed at Irish Catholics, prompted James Beaty, publisher of the Leader, to create a new subsection in the newspaper’s police court section entitled “The Drunkards.” Based on arrest and city jail reports from 1858 to 1868, approximately 50 per cent, and frequently more, of the total number of individuals arrested in Toronto each year -- larceny, assault, and drunk and disorderly conduct were the most frequent crimes -- were Irish Catholics, though they represented only 20 to 25 percent of the city’s population.

More serious was a riot on Stanley Street in the hot summer of 1857, a consequence of the bad feelings that had been brewing between members of the Orange Order and Irish Catholics. The battle began following the Orange celebrations on July 12. Police constable Devlin, sporting an Orange rosette, was walking on Stanley Street with his wife when he was attacked by a gang of Irish Catholics and beaten bloody. Another constable soon arrived to arrest one of the perpetrators, but his friends refused to permit that. Stones were thrown and fighting broke out with the police until more officers arrived to rescue their colleagues and restore order.

Similar often bloody confrontations between Irish Protestants and Catholics, especially on July 12 and St. Patrick’s Day, when parades were held, were regular occurrences in Toronto for the next 30 years.

In 1864, the sad realities of Irish Catholic urban life -- including an unusually high mortality rate for children under the age of 10 -- led Bishop John Joseph Lynch (who became Toronto’s first archbishop in 1870) to write a pamphlet entitled “The Evils of Wholesale and Improvident Emigration from Ireland,” in which he urged Catholic officials in Ireland to discourage further immigration to North America. That plea, however, fell on deaf ears.

Excerpted from Toronto: Biography of a City, by Allan Levine, published by Douglas & McIntyre, 2014.

[Courtesy: The Toronto Star]
September 8, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder Singh (Punjab), September 08, 2014, 12:00 PM.

The fundamentalists of all faiths have this affliction.

2: N Singh (Canada), September 09, 2014, 7:27 PM.

In a perverse sort of way, this makes me feel better. It is comforting to know that other groups (including the Irish and the Jews) that have done so well for themselves and now considered part of the landscape, were once treated as outsiders and with contempt. Makes me hopeful that one day the wheel will turn in our favour as well!

3: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), September 09, 2014, 11:06 PM.

So were Italians looked down upon in New York in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sikhs have been in USA since long (one can see an early group photograph of Sikhs at Ellis Island Museum). But their numbers are less. Minorities have to face prejudice in one way or the other.

4: H. Kaur (Canada), September 11, 2014, 8:35 PM.

Many European groups were treated badly in Canada at various times, some because of wartime situations, others just because they were not from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant group. I knew an elderly lady from the Scandinavian countries (she was in her 80s back in the 1990s). She hated the Queen of England and used swear words to refer to her because the kids of British origins used to make fun of her and the other Scandinavian kids in their town in a really mean way. Other people of European origins have also been discriminated against by the WASPS in Canada. It seems to be the way for people, to hate whoever happens to be the most different from them at the time. At one point in history, Canada really discriminated against Catholics. They were not allowed to be in the government. French Canadians were mostly Catholic and were discriminated against. I guess separation movements rarely occur in a vacuum and have a history of grievance.

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Well, Here Are Our Role Models From Yesteryear"

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